Bringing cold chain for first mile distribution

Bringing cold chain for first mile distribution

Last year, Kenyan farmers and agribusinesses produced an estimated 6.2 million MT of fresh fruits and vegetables. Although one of the leading exporters of fresh produce in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya exported under 2% of total production—at 127,500 metric tons—and still suffers from high levels of post-harvest losses. Cooling near the point of harvest, at the first mile of distribution, is key to improving quality and reducing losses so as to increase production and exports.


Temperature, relative humidity, and (depending on the crop) ethylene are the top causes of post-harvest losses for fresh produce and flowers, and the scientific literature strongly encourages controlling these factors as quickly as possible after harvest.


Green beans should enter pre-cooling within approximately 6 hours of harvest otherwise they begin to suffer volume losses to dehydration (in other words, “expensive water”), which will also eventually lead to increased rejections. Climacteric fruits, such as avocados, are not as vulnerable to dehydration, but exposure to temperatures over 25 Celsius for over 24 hours can inhibit the ripening process and increase the chances of stem end rot and body rot. Given that uniform ripening is the key challenge that Kenyan avocados face in international markets, this is a major concern. And as exporters increasingly look to develop berry production, cold storage at farm level becomes non-negotiable. Leading global berry exporters drop temperature within 6 hours of harvest—frequently quicker.


Placing cold storage at farm level might be highly recommended, but it has long been difficult to do because of a lack of reasonable financing options and reliable energy solutions that will not break the bank. Consequently, most of the country’s cold storage capacity remains located near Nairobi; meanwhile, fruits and vegetables are often grown 100km to 250km away, and can take up to a day or longer to reach the cold chain.


Given the sensitivity and margins of its product, most of the flower sector has invested in on-farm cold storage, but at the price of high energy costs due to energy reliability and efficiency challenges: most flower cold rooms run on three-phase power, and extended power outages mean producers must run diesel generators.


But, unless you’re a journalist, a problem without a solution isn’t worth writing about. InspiraFarms is addressing these cold chain challenges by manufacturing and financing modular, certification-ready cold storage, food processing, and automated ripening facilities designed to meet the East African operating context.


The modularity enables agribusinesses to grow capacity gradually, without having to make risky leaps into large-scale facilities. The certification-readiness helps producers reach export markets. For improved energy efficiency and reliability, InspiraFarms’ cold rooms run on single-phase power or solar, and use a thermal storage solution to guarantee temperature and relative humidity regardless of what is going on with the grid or the sun—thereby dramatically reducing or eliminating the need for diesel generators.


However, a technology solution is only as relevant as it is accessible. Knowing that capex is the hardest type of investment for agribusinesses, InspiraFarms offers hire-purchase agreements with 6-month installment payments and that are secured by the InspiraFarms’ facility being financed: no additional collateral is required. With this technology and financing package, InspiraFarms is hoping to make it easier for Kenyan farmers and agribusinesses to take on the sector’s next growth phase.


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